Russian Billionaire-Politico Aims to Trump Donald

31 August 2005

All-American tycoon Donald Trump is a fervent evangelist for US-style capitalism - which he propounds via his high-rated TV show The Apprentice.

Whereas former Soviet intelligence officer Alexander Lebedev proselytizes with equal fervor for - um - US-style capitalism. And intends to trump Donald with a show of his very own.

Neither man is content with counting money. What they want - really, really want - is celebrity, the glittering icing on the cake of life.

Lebedev (45) is not only seriously rich - he controls Moscow-headquartered National Reserve Bank (which owns about 30% of Russia's largest airline Aeroflot and around 36% of aircraft leasing company Ilyushin) - he is also a deputy in the state Duma [parliament].

All he lacks is street-stardom. A deficiency Russia's 26th richest citizen is currently putting right by pumping millions of dollars into Chance - a yet to be aired TV show that follows the agony and the ecstasy of selected individuals trying to set up small businesses in Moscow.

The scenario goes like this ... five groups of four individuals try to build a small business from scratch using $100,000 supplied by Lebedev. The winner is the first group that builds its company to a value of $500,000.

"Business is an interesting game and if you make it as a reality show, you can attract people," says Lebedev. "Most of the reality shows on television today are vulgar, filled with lies like in Soviet times.

"I want to make a program that is clever, to teach people something. No one teaches you to be successful in small business here, not in the schools, not in universities."

The winning team has two options: it can either sell the company for $500,000 to an investment group set up by Lebedev; or keep it.

Data sourced from Moscow Times Online; additional content by WARC staff